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Palestinians Mark Nakba Day

  • VOA News

Israeli riot and undercover policemen arrest a Palestinian protester during clashes in the east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Issawiya, May 15, 2012.

Israeli riot and undercover policemen arrest a Palestinian protester during clashes in the east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Issawiya, May 15, 2012.

Palestinians and Arab Israelis are commemorating "Nakba" day to mark the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Palestinians observe "Nakba", which means "catastrophe," with demonstrations every year on May 15, the day after the anniversary of Israel's creation. Israel uses the Hebrew calendar and therefore celebrated its 64th anniversary on April 26 this year.

More than 700,000 Palestinians are estimated to have fled or been forced to leave their homes during the war that followed Israel's declaration of statehood in 1948.

The anniversary comes just hours after hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed to end a weeks-long hunger strike in exchange for promises of better conditions.

Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman confirmed late Monday that a deal had been reached. The deal averts fears of widespread unrest if any of the inmates had died from the strike.

Egypt and Jordan played key roles in mediating between the Israelis and prison leaders representing all Palestinian factions.

The Palestinians won key concessions, including more family visits and limits to a controversial Israeli policy that can imprison people for years without charge.

The agreement also saw roughly 20 prisoners released from solitary confinement back into the general prison population. These include Hamas member Abdullah al-Barghouthi, serving 67 life sentences for helping to plan a series of suicide bombings that killed scores of civilians.

In return, Israel extracted pledges by militant groups "to prevent terror activities."

The hunger strike garnered widespread support among Palestinians, with hundreds joining daily marches and sit-in protests.

Outside mediation was necessary because many of the striking prisoners were associated with groups that Israel has no direct contact with, including Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, and the even more militant Islamic Jihad.

The mass action was sparked by Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad spokesman who fasted for 66 days this year to demand his release from incarceration without charge. He ended his fast after Israeli authorities agreed to release him a few weeks early.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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